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Kingerski: Players on right side of battle with the NHL over a Return to Play

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NHL players return
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks at BB&T Center in Sunrise during the Panthers’ game against Montreal on the night Roberto Luongo’s number was retired.

The NHL is fighting a few battles on a few fronts.

Not even the most impressive armies ever seen have been able to fight on three fronts, yet that’s the challenge facing the NHL.

While players have traditionally not had a great position in negotiations, this time, they’re in control of the NHL return to play.

And it’s not a great look for business owners to ask players for even more money.

The three battles are the owners vs. the players, the owners who want to play vs. the owners ready to scrap the season, and all parties vs. the insidious coronavirus.

I’ve appeared on 93-7 the Fan a couple of times in the last few days because the National Hockey Now family is on top of the situation like few others. A few sources familiar with the situation have vented to us.

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There is rancor, resentment, and some who would like to give up. If you haven’t, check out the latest “Off the Record”column for PHN+ members.

A few folks on the inside let off some steam, and the column by Jimmy Murphy contained heaps of insight.

“Obviously, (the players) know the owners got them again, and they will look like greedy assholes if they hold out, but this does not bode well for the future,” said a prominent agent.

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For those just catching up, the NHL Return to Play in June included a new five-year CBA agreement.

In that agreement, players agreed to a massive 20% escrow for this season and declining escrow withholdings until the final year of the agreement, in which the hated escrow payments declined to just six percent.

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However, as part of the “new” NHL Return to Play discussions, owners want to re-open the new CBA agreement to increase escrow payments in the final years of the agreement, AND owners want players to accept a 13-16% salary deferral this season.

The owners’ ask would mean players receive only about 40% of their salaries.

Don’t succumb to the “players should be happy because they get paid to play a game” nonsense.

With lasting physical effects, the extreme work required, and their careers’ finite lengths, the players earn their money.

There are 500 people on the planet able to play the game at that level, and they create billions of dollars of revenue.

You wouldn’t be too happy if you worked year-round but received a 60% reduction in money; if you created billions of dollars in revenue but carried the losses for people who are otherwise worth hundreds of millions or billions of dollars.

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Owners will recoup the losses now and when they sell the franchise at an exorbitant profit.

Not even the Arizona Coyotes or Florida Panthers have decreased in value.

And so the players are right to be angry. They forewent their last paychecks last season and sacrificed big money to make the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs work, left their families for months, and agreed to significant salary givebacks.

In theory, the escrow money could be returned to the players, but it has never worked that way.

At best, the players received pennies on the dollar after the escrow is redistributed to achieve the 50/50 hockey revenue distribution between players and owners.

In a solid union town like Pittsburgh, it’s always surprising to hear so many people side reflexively with owners, regardless of the situation. Imagine steelworkers’ or coalminers’ salaries fluctuating based on how well the company performed.

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Players and owners agreed to a CBA just a few months ago, during the pandemic, which no one expected to be solved by October. If the owners made a bad deal, that’s on them.

But, the owners didn’t make a bad deal. It’s just going to be a little while longer before the owners recoup their losses from the 2019-20 season. For the players, they’ll never recoup their losses.

And that’s why, this time, the NHL players are 100% right.

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